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Justice Department says $2.5B funneled into North Korea's nuclear program

The Justice Department says 28 individuals laundered the money through 200 shell companies. File Photo courtesy of KCNA/EPA-EFE
The Justice Department says 28 individuals laundered the money through 200 shell companies. File Photo courtesy of KCNA/EPA-EFE

May 28 (UPI) -- The U.S. Justice Department has accused 28 North Korean and Chinese nationals of violating U.S. sanctions to prevent Pyongyang from developing nuclear weapons, an indictment unsealed Thursday indicates.

The indictment, filed in February, says the individuals laundered more than $2.5 billion through some 200 shell companies. The funds were funneled into North Korea's state-owned Foreign Trade Bank, also known as Josep Bank.

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The money was then used to fund North Korea's nuclear weapons program, the court documents said. The United States has implemented sanctions attempting to prevent the country from developing weapons of mass destruction.

Those sanctions, along with bilateral meetings between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in 2018 and 2019, have been unable to stop Pyongyang's nuclear efforts altogether.

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Nuclear negotiations between the United States and North Korea remain at a stalemate since a summit last year between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim in Hanoi, Vietnam, failed to produce an agreement.

After a 17-month hiatus, Pyongyang conducted more than a dozen weapons tests throughout the latter half of 2019, and in December carried out what it called "crucial" tests at its Sohae Satellite Launching Station, which analysts suggested could be a long-range rocket engine for an intercontinental ballistic missile.

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At the end of 2019, Kim announced that there was no longer any reason for North Korea to be "unilaterally bound" to its commitment to halt nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests and warned of a "new strategic weapon" coming soon.

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Thomas Maresca contributed to this report.

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